Written to be consumed and performed as one singular piece of music, Pelagial is a fascinating concept album that tells a tale of life in the big blue. Songwriter Robin Staps’ plan, to begin at the surface of the ocean and sink the listener steadily through the five pelagic depth zones, could have led to a simplistic 53-minute soundtrack going “glug, glug, glug”. However, unsurprisingly, he has quashed what could have been viewed as a gimmick by fully realising and integrating the notion, with individual tracks able to work both as standalone songs and also as part of the all-encompassing whole. As a consequence, this means drinking in the immensity of the ocean / The Ocean is not a task to be taken on lightly – repeated listens are essential to gauge just how deep this beast goes.
It is not by chance that you can sense the increasing depth, pressure
and diminishing light as you progress through the album. “My original
plan was to write a stepless musical progression, like a continuous
colour blending from white to black”, says Staps, “but I soon realized
that it could not be that linear.” The need for soundman Jens Bogren to
create 288 separate audio tracks is proof alone of what a complex task
this was to try and smoothly patch the entirety together. Consequently,
there are plenty of
overlapping glugs after all, as well as bubbles, babbles, sloshes and
groans and the journey is not a direct path downwards.
The rippling wash of the introductory “Epipelagic” is dappled with
light; emerging sounds that range from wind chimes to a distant oriental
orchestra. A gentle movement into the mesopelagic and a bowed cello for
“Into The Uncanny” drops away to finally reveal the waves of electrics.
For a while, we swim through this and the bathyalpelagic zones; rocky,
hard waters with fist-pumping anthems and catchy riffs. “Impasses” hits
hardest with a strong undercurrent of post-metallic crush driving us
deeper. Already, Loic Rossetti’s screams are raining down and the jaws
are dropping at the manic tapping and rhythmic patterning.
A sudden drop-off into the black-edged death rattle of
“Disequillibriated” is the first point where the oppressive crush
becomes apparent as The Ocean raise their metal flag and rage without
remorse. It is also the marker where the lineal process downwards also
becomes fragmented. “Boundless Vasts” offers a fresher wider vantage
point which “Signals Of Anxiety” leaps upon as an opportunity to
introduce the perception of size and pressure. Our tiny sonic diving
bell suddenly seems minute in these immense waters. The layering of the
music is impressively thick here in the abyss with the echoing choruses
taking the spotlight. There are washed-out melodics and lightness of
tone to contend with here and these do contrast, jar even, when placed
against a backdrop of bass-loaded bottom-end.
A depth marker further, the hadopelagic, serves as an oddly buoyant
build into the finale and feels a little frivolous – these twinkling,
disjointed precursors seem anomalous, almost rushed pieces, acting as
little more than padding. The final depth gauge markers, demersal and
benthic are, as expected, monstrous beasts. “Cognitive Dissonance” is
full of sudden hammering, panic-stricken chugging and twin roars that
squeeze and squeeze until “The Origin Of Our Wishes” slows heartbeats
with a pounding, dissonant doom that claws at bodies; snatching lives.
Sound the death knell. Davy Jones’ Locker has taken us.
It is perhaps true that this project could just have easily been
flipped on its head and taken the listener on a steady rise to the
surface. It certainly would have roused the listener from the off with a
hefty opening salvo and also produced an uplifting finale. One would
imagine that the band’s proggier side could have flourished a little
more overtly than this version’s obvious propensity for overdosing on
metallic power. Given time though, it is clear that this shoe fits and
The Ocean most definitely stretch themselves to plug the gaps. The ride
may not be the smoothest but, undeniably, this Pelagial is still a
conceptual masterpiece with genius to be found in both its shifting,
beguiling, expansive post-metal wash and in those thick, dark
brushstrokes that produce such thunder throughout.
Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2013/05/the-ocean-pelagial-metal-blade/